Science vs. Religion (Redux?): 
How (Not) to Discuss/Debate the Subject

Sheldon F. Gottlieb

If I were not a rational human being averse to the supernatural, I might be less painfully aware that I live in a world obsessed with subjects that should long be dead, buried, and in many cases forgotten. Surely one such is the question of whether science and religion are compatible or in conflict.

On one level, it is ridiculous that we must even think about this subject. Notwithstanding that the official positions of various major religions have become friendlier toward evolution in recent years, society remains torn over the subject of science and religion.1 Are the two in eternal conflict? Are they reconcilable? By now, the whole subject of science vs. religion (SvR) should have been dead and buried in a place where Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) could not be said over it. Yet the question won’t go away: Are they reconcilable? Much as the Templeton Foundation (see below) and others seek to blur the issue, strict religious views about the physical, chemical, and biological nature of Earth and the universe are irreconcilable with scientific views. Nowhere is this clearer than on the subject of biological evolution. Yet the SvR debate blunders on, exerting deadly influence and raising havoc (primarily with the educational system, secondarily with the legal system and politics). Anyone who has taught either high school biology or non-majors Bio 101 at the university level experiences the needless turmoil created by religion. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) can attest to the veracity of my observations, because defending the integrity of science education—that is, defending science and evolution—is the primary reason for its existence. (I discussed my university experiences teaching evolution in two demographically different American communities in the first chapter of my book The Naked Mind.)2

One question that comes to the fore: If the scientific worldview is the correct one and if many Western religions truly have accepted evolution, then what societal mechanisms keep this old, sterile contention between science and religion needlessly roiling?

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.